Paul Hewitt, in his "Depopulation and Aging in Europe and Japan," (The Social Contract, Summer, 2004, p. 282) states, "Like it or not, our current economic and social organization depends on continuing economic expansion."
As Hamlet says in his soliloquy, "Ay, there's the rub."
Is perpetual physical growth possible on our finite orb? That is the question. And in the answer, we find mankind's take "to be or not to be."
This farm boy, trained in biology and medicine, thinks he sees limits already upon us, and others looming in the near future. Hewitt points out in detail the consequences if the current economic system fails to grow perpetually. Like a car designed to run on gasoline, it "won't go" absent the fuel of constant growth.
Is see us between a rock and a hard place, between Scylla and Charybdis, with the irresistible force of the conventional economy opposed to the immovable object of an inherently limited resource system. Others, like Hewitt, envision physical growth forever. Pay your nickel and take your choice.
I believe we will end up making the transition to an economic system based on conservation rather than consumption. I do not know how we will get there, or how it will work, but hard necessity will force it. This anonymous little ditty will become the economic maxim
Use it up, wear it out!
Make it do or do without! (1)
The promotion of consumption will give way to advocating satisfaction with what we already have.
The great boon of cheap liquid fossil fuel of the last 150 years seems certain to begin subsiding into memory. Human populations, after cresting at 8 billion or so at mid-century, will likely begin to subside to whatever level is sustainable with daily income energy from the Sun.
My guess is that the human race will exit the 21st century with about as many members as it entered the 20th 1.5 billion, plus or minus a few hundred million.
1. Familiar Quotations, John Bartlett, 15th edition, p.924.